A Wonderful Valencia Surprise

Pago Gran with glassSo super-Spanish importer Jonas Gustafsson shows up at the tasting table one day and says, “I’ve got some really exciting wines from Valencia.” Now “exciting wine from Valencia” is a bit like “jumbo shrimp” or “military intelligence” – words that don’t seem to go together. After all, Valencia is baking hot, bone dry, and mainly turns out coarse, heavy, thick reds for the bulk trade.

I was skeptical.

But leave it to Jonas to discover Pago Casa Gran, an estate that does pretty much everything the exact opposite way from anyone else in the Levante. Founded by Spanish wine industry veterans in 2006, they farm their old vines organically – actually beyond organically as they have adopted the incredibly stringent Delinat guidelines for soil health and biodiversity.

The Grapes That Make Sense
Unlike international-style, consultant-driven, wineries in Jumilla and Alicante, they grow only the grapes that actually make sense for Valencia: Monastrell (Mouvedre), Syrah, and Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet) – no Cabernet Sauvignon to be seen. In a region where most everyone sprays herbicides to kill off “weeds” and ensure all of the limited rainfall goes to their grapes, they encourage extensive cover crops (year-round where possible) to protect the soil and naturally fix nitrogen (so no fertilizers needed).

In bulk wine production, growers here usually either do pretty much nothing to their vines – minimizing labor costs – or aggressively pull leaves from the vines so that groaning high yields of grapes can bake their way to ripeness.

Careful Vineyard Work; Gentle, Natural Fermentation
At Pago Casa Gran they work their vineyards all year long, thinning bunches and shoots and leaves so that balanced yields of grapes can ripen fully without developing cooked or dried fruit flavors.

They harvest by hand and plot and grape varietal, allowing them to get perfect ripeness and tailor each fermentation batch to the grape and soil type. Where others add cultured yeast and enzymes for consistency and extraction, at Pago Gran Casa they allow the yeast from the vineyards and winery to work on their own, developing complexity and sense of place. And, instead of large, bulk, fermenters that have to be pumped full of grape juice and then pumped out again to barrel, they use small tanks and a crane – lifting each fermenter up to allow the juice to flow out naturally and gently when it’s done.

Hard work, great vineyards and growing the right grapes all come together in these three fantastic wines from Pago Gran Casa. All have plenty of rich, ripe, fruit – we are in the south of Spain, after all! – but deliver it with remarkable freshness and complexity. If you think Spanish wines have to be heavy, thick, and overly oaked, these will change your mind.

And, if you love Spanish wines and appreciate Jonas’s other selections – well, then, Pago Gran Casa is about to become another in a long line of favorites. You can find out more about them on our website. Don’t miss them!

Pago Gran Wines

 

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Disappearing Wineries & Private Label Wines – A Few Questions Answered

question-marks-pictureRecently, you’ve had some questions that remind us of how different it is to select what wines we carry at our store versus a mainstream retail store.

We don’t want to bring you mass-market wines, and that means our inventory changes constantly. Sometimes a distributor will stop carrying one of our favorites, or the importer will stop importing it. And with some of our value wines, an under $10 find in one vintage can become a cheap not-so-good wine the next. And … sometimes a winery just disappears.

Here are some of the questions we’ve heard lately … let us know if you have some others!

What happened to Owl House Red?  We know, we know, Owl House was the perfect house red! But it is no longer. Gallo bought the winery last year, and while it kept the vineyards for its own wines, it shut down the winery. If you’re looking for a new house red – try La Playa Cabernet Sauvignon.  It’s a big mouthful of lush round fruit with the same kiss of toasty oak and soft finish that made Owl House so popular ($6.98/ea by the case). And a big source for crowd-pleasing, affordable reds these days is Spain … you might also try Bodegas Borsao Garnacha – $8.99 a bottle.

When’s Villa Jolanda Holiday Sparkler coming in?  Actually, this one’s easy. As always, it will arrive Thanksgiving week and be featured the following Saturday as part of our huge Small Business Saturday sale!

Where’s Riebeek Chardonnay?  After being out of stock at the distributor, it’s back in stock again! This South African winery has become synonymous with under $10 tasty wine values recently. And for those of you who love the Sauv Blanc – we have the 2014 in stock now at $7.98, $6.98 on a case.

I had a wine at a friend’s house/when traveling and loved it! Do you carry it?  We love this question. There are so many wines out there, and we are always learning about new ones. In fact, we have a few in inventory that came to us through a customer’s comments. And we are always happy to special order wines for you when we can.

But sometimes we can’t. State law requires we buy all our wines through a Virginia distributor, and some wines simply don’t come into Virginia.  Or sometimes the wines do come into Virginia, but they’ve been picked up by Safeway or Total. These stores slash their margins on certain wines to attract customers, planning to make up their profits other ways. It doesn’t make sense for us to carry them at a higher price – that wouldn’t help you.

And sometimes that bottle you enjoyed was actually private label wine! Both Total and Trader Joe’s buy surplus juice and have wineries make wines under a special label developed by those stores. This way, these stores control both the costs and the profit margin (one way they make up for the steep discounts on those other wines). These can be good wines (even though the names are made up), but we certainly can’t get them!

So we choose to introduce you to the wines the big stores won’t carry –  wines that are as good (or better), from wineries that don’t spend a lot of money on marketing – these are the wines we look to bring to you.

Have another question? Keep asking! We’re here to answer them.